Mastering the Different Strokes

As you’re undoubtedly aware, an artistic composition requires great thought. Part of that will almost certainly focus on how to tell a story through the brush strokes you use. Different strokes will, after all, emphasise or de-emphasise certain aspects of a painting and produce stunningly rich and realistic textures. In fact, there are many different types of painting strokes at your disposal when crafting a masterpiece; a truly great artist understands this.



Fergus O’Ryan – The Liffey at Sally Gap

Glazing is typically used to create a softer, smoother image. This is done by layering colours on top of each other; specifically, it requires building up ever-more transparent layers over an opaque base within the painting. This particular approach results in apparently translucent objects that are ideal for those sorts of subjects that are far too complex for simple, single-layered opaque paint; such as water and skin tones. The real trick is to dilute each subsequent layer with (depending on your medium) water or oils, as thinner paints will reveal far more colour depth.



Hatching is a particular technique that’s specifically concerned with shading. There are many variations on hatching, although they’re all based on the idea of tightly packed lines forming shade and tone, and varying the width of the lines will alter how dark or light the painting becomes. The three types of hatching are: linear hatching, in which all lines are parallel and filter in the same direction; contour-hatching, which, unlike its linear counterpart, involves the lines curving around the area; and cross-hatching, which features lines intersecting horizontally and vertically – ideal for creating darker patches on the painting.



Stephen Rose – Dragon bowl

Similar to glazing, scumbling is also concerned with layering paints to create textures. However, where it differs from glazing is that, rather than placing thin, transparent paints over an opaque base coat, the artist places darker opaque shades over lighter colours. By taking a dry, stiff-haired brush loaded with minimal paint, the artist scrubs the top surface, with the base coat peeking through. This creates the illusion of texture, thanks to rough, uneven and mottled effects on the painting.



When an artist wishes to create a soft shift from one colour to the next, they’ll undoubtedly employ blending. This gradual transition from one shade to another is usually undertaken using oil paints, which allow the artist time to spread the paint while it’s still wet. While other paints do allow blending, time is of the essence, getting the work done before it dries. In order to successfully blend, the artist draws the brush back and forth, vertically, in a natural and consistent manner, creating a gentle gradient.



Edward Wesson – On the Broads

The wet-on-wet technique requires a certain element of skill and speed in order to correctly produce the results required. Skill, because an artist can end up with little more than a murky mess on the canvas; speed, because since the artist is applying wet paint directly on to wet paint – it needs to be done before the undercoat has time to dry. When done right, however, the effect is a beautiful, energetic and almost spontaneous blending of hues. It’s difficult to picture a stormy, unfocused horizon without utilising such a method.


Mastering brush strokes, to the point where they become second nature, is never an easy task – it can take even the most talented artist years to become an expert, as only experience and experimentation will provide the training ground required to create outstanding art. This is particularly true when tasked with combining different brush stroke types in a single painting – whether it’s watercolour landscapes or still life oil paintings – where every sweep of the brush not only does a fair amount of heavy lifting, but also must necessarily add to the overall aesthetic and vision. But once this challenge is overcome, the results speak for themselves.

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
This entry was posted in Landscape, still life. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *